Day 4 Wednesday, May 22, 2013
1130 Position: Latitude 27 20.8 S, Longitude 172 23.6 W
Speed 19.6 then 14.5, Course 046
Barometer 1013.0, Weather rainy, foggy, visibility <1 mile, then cloudy with whitecapped seas. Wind more southeasterly
Total miles run: 756.4
I mentioned earlier that we do have email capability, but it's not via our regular email; it's a special account through the ship, so we can't see our normal email accounts or this blog we're sending posts to until we reach San Francisco. We're using this account to communicate with ship's agents on either side of the ocean, to make arrangements. We bought a card for $10 and text messages to and from the ship are about 8 cents apiece, unless they're long.
It's raining this morning, and when I (K) arose I noticed a significant vibration. The GPS said we were going 19.6 knots! Must ask the Captain about this. As of 0940 we are back to 14.5 knots, but the weather has turned foggy. Last night at dinner we asked if either Captain Zoran or Chief Engineer Lawrence had ever had an encounter with pirates. Lawrence replied that while transiting south of the Suez Canal, his ship had been pursued by them. "What did you do?" we asked. "We picked up speed," he said. He redlined the engine and the ship was vibrating like crazy, but they managed to outrun the pirates. We discussed the issues of arming the crew versus carrying trained, armed security guards, and both much preferred the latter. Capt Zoran said he did not like imagining himself in the role of armed combatant, and was grateful that the number of piracy incidents has decreased except for off the west coast of Africa, where they have increased. Both he and Lawrence agreed that the Indian Ocean is still a risky place for small yachts.
The reason for the 19 knots is this: every 2 days the engine RPMs are increased in order to clear out any residues in the Turbo-chargers. Okay, guys. Me want Turbo-charger on Dana 24. Now.
So far the days are whizzing by very quickly, and we are having a great time getting to know the ship and its crew.
Near the 180th meridian of longitude you have to be careful with navigation. It's easy to make a mistake on paper (but not so much with electronics), because when you are west of 180 degrees heading east, the longitude increases, but as soon as you cross the meridian, it begins to decrease. So, for example, there are two ways to make a mistake near the 180th; you can plot the minutes going in the wrong direction, or you can plot the fix on the wrong side of the meridian if you're not double-checking. At the speeds we normally do on Sockdolager, this would not be a problem because we go so slow it would be noticed.
At dinner last night Lawrence joked that once we cross the Equator we can ease off on the power, because we'll be "going downhill." Later, Jim asked about ice cream. "That's normally served on Sundays," said Lawrence. "I measure my time by ice cream. I'm about ten ice creams from home." On the bridge, Jim asked Captain Zoran, "I was wondering about breaking into one of those frozen food containers for ice cream." Zoran laughed and said, "We may have to have ice cream sooner than Sunday. It's not often you get the same day twice."
At dinner tonight a heavily accented Russian voice announced, "Tomorrow ve vill haff Vednesday May 21 again, for twenty-four hoursh." We all looked up at the ceiling speaker as if searching for the deity whose voice it was up there, and Jim announced, "Does that mean we can celebrate with ice cream?" Our steward, RJ, said, "As a matter of fact, yes. The Captain has ordered it." Hooray! We cheered. This ship isn't big on dessert, but it does everything else extremely well, and the lack of sweets is probably saving us from our own plumping selves.
Fellow passenger Barbara is a polliwog, meaning she's never crossed the Equator by boat, so the rest of us shellbacks may have a ceremony for her. Stay tuned.
Day 5. Wednesday, May 22, 2013 (again)
1248 Position: Latitude 22 57.8 S, Longitude 167 48.5 W
Speed 14, Course 042,
Barometer 1013.8, Weather Sunny, hot, partly cloudy
Total miles run: 1121
It's Wednesday, May 22 again. We are having two Wednesdays this week, which means we've crossed the International Date Line and are now on the same day as the Americas. We crossed the thousand-mile mark in the night, too. The morning light glows soft and golden, which means we are also about to cross the Tropic of Capricorn and enter the tropics again. Such milestones! The other day in the Officer's mess everyone told Barbara, "Wait'll you see the Equator!" She looked surprised. "You mean you can see it?" she said. "Oh yes," we chorused, "It's a big line in the water!" Then she gave us one of those I'm-on-to-you looks.
Until yesterday's heavy rain we were opening the portholes for fresh air, but now that the ship has started its air conditioning, temps are quite comfortable. The Captain told us that starting the air conditioning too early would have caused the Filipino crew to "freeze and block up the air ducts in their quarters, which would turn the compressor into a block of ice!"
We heard about the tornado in Oklahoma City, and have no way of knowing if our friends Don and Ruth and their family are okay, so all we can do is hope. The Captain can get small snippets of news text via satellite, and had mentioned this. When I said, Oh no, friends live in that area, he pulled up the story for us.
It seems almost calm as we steam along, but the waves look about 2-3 meters high way down there. Our friends Rich and Cyndi are sailing their boat Legacy to Fiji as we steam north, and we expect Charisma, Gato Go and several others are out there, too. Our friend Tom Reese aboard the Mahina Tiare ought to be nearing the Austral Islands by now. Those are all wonderful destinations. On the Hugo Schulte there's very little motion, so the passage is comfortable, but the downside is the ship almost never spends more than a day in port. The crew might get a couple of hours ashore, and the officers are so burdened with paperwork that they sometimes don't get ashore at all. About 20 people make up the complement of officers and crew, and they spend almost all of their time at sea.
It's ice cream day! The Captain ordered it, and we each got a heaping bowl with two large blocks of vanilla and chocolate. I thought, oh, I'll never finish that, and next thing I knew it was gone. Barbara asked, "Why are we having ice cream today?" I answered, "Because when you have two Wednesdays in one week you need to have ice cream."
Over dinner, Lawrence expressed a curiosity about Alaska after hearing I had lived there, so I put a hundred photos on his flash drive, and the next day he said, "You ought to come to Romania—the delta of the Danube where it meets the Black Sea has thousands of birds." My curiosity is piqued now.
We are finally feeling relaxed and free of the stress of preparing Sockdolager for shipping. Being "just a passenger" is great, and bringing our own GPS along so we can plot the course to see where we are adds a lot of pleasure to this voyage.
Day 6 Thursday, May 23, 2013
1240 Position: Latitude 18 44.8 S, Longitude 163 35.1 W
Speed 14.7, Course 048,
Barometer 1012, Weather sunny, hot, partly cloudy—the tropics!
Total miles run: 1468
Big day today! First Officer Alex put Jim and me in hard hats and gloves, then led us through a maze of containers stacked ten high, through a small hatch and down a ladder, along a catwalk, through another small hatch and down another long ladder, and there she was… our little Sockdolager, riding along all safe and secure deep in the hold! We couldn't go aboard but we did take photos and check the straps, which were fine. It was good to be able to see her and know she is so well taken care of.
Then we saw the first and only land we'll see on the entire voyage: Palmerston Atoll, in the central Cook Islands. We crossed Sockdolager's westbound track as an albatross cruised around the bow, and could see the collection of little islands ringing the coral atoll in the distance. It brought back memories of trying to pick up a mooring there in early September, but being subjected to the big swell, so we had to chat briefly with the mayor of the settlement on the radio, hand over a few supplies we'd brought for them, and with regret, leave for Niue, 600 miles away. Our current voyage feels very different indeed.
The Equator is several days away, and we plan to have a crossing ceremony complete with King Neptune (Jim) and Aphrodite (me) awarding a diploma (signed by the Captain) to fellow passenger Barbara, who is not yet a Shellback. She doesn't know anything about this, but the crew has been in on it, giving us aluminum foil to make a crown and trident, a new mop for a beard, and a few other supplies for the "initiation ceremony."
At 3:30 PM as previously announced over the intercom, we had an abandon ship drill, and it was very thorough. There are two bright orange, fully enclosed lifeboats, and our half of the crew assembled on the starboard deck, lifejackets on. Alex, the Second Officer (yes, all three officers are named Alex) opened the hatch to the lifeboat and in we slipped. It can hold 32 people, though there were only 12 of us, and it has a bench seat around the hull with seat belts and shoulder straps. Everyone strapped in, and Alex gave the instructions. After demonstrating the controls to the crew, he motioned to me and said, "Would you like to start the engine?" Heck yes! I climbed into the helmsman's seat and was amazed that the engine and controls are as simple and familiar as any small powerboat. All lifeboats are the same, so once you learn it's easy. I started the engine, put it into gear, and ran it for a few seconds while we just hung in the air in the straps.
Then it was time for firefighting drills. Out rolled the hoses, and we three passengers were herded into the galley to yell Help! Fire in the galley! while two crew, helped by their mates, donned silver heat suits equipped with compressed air breathing apparatus. They opened the hatch and came into the galley with fire extinguishers that they pretended to spray. The First Officer is very astute and we could tell he was noting where more practice was needed, but this seems to be a very cooperative crew with high morale, and we expect that the next drill will be even smoother.